From Problem Child to Genius—Energizing Chapters


The smiles are back! Yesterday the CDC announced that anyone who is fully vaccinated need not wear a mask in most circumstances.

But wait. The comments on my Facebook page tell an interesting story. Everyone isn’t jumping on Open Table or heading to the movies. Some of us are quite happy, thank you very much, to continue wearing a face covering and staying socially distant.

Hybrid might be the next normal, at least for 2021. Associations will be striking the balance between those members who have been counting the minutes until they can attend an in-person event and the others who discovered that Zoom was their new best friend.

This intersection of technology and touch is an opportunity to explore how associations can offer members with highly individual needs meaning and engagement. Innovative leaders, who are scrutinizing their paths to growth, are beginning to see chapters as a means to that end.

Recently, Sharon Rice, .orgSource, Managing Director, Business Strategy, and Jim Lahey, Global Partner Developer, and association executive, sat down to discuss how associations can apply the principles of channel management to maximize their chapter relationships in this new environment.

Jim, who served as Vice President of Global Channels and Alliances at the Association for Supply Chain Management, sees this as an optimal time for associations to energize those partnerships.

Understand the Concept

Channel management is a term from the marketing world. The ultimate goal of a channel management program is to bring companies, which may be large and decentralized, closer to their customers. Here’s how the Economic Times describes it:

Channel management helps in developing a program for selling and servicing customers within a specific channel. The aim is to streamline communication between a business and the customer.

Forbes says this:

Selling products and services through channel partners. . . is an established model for B2B organizations to expand their sales footprint and broaden their reach to new audiences, geographies, and market segments. According to Forrester, third-party channels are responsible for more than 70% of global revenue.

For many associations, chapters are channels that are already baked into the cake. Other channels might include educational institutions, training partners, or service providers.

The relationship between chapters and their parent organization can be complicated.

Discover the Value

There must be at least a couple of readers rolling their eyes. The relationship between chapters and their parent organizations can be complicated. Am I asking you to consider that your problem child is a genius? Not without a change in perception. With the right guidance, chapters can make your life easier, but you need to start seeing them as an asset that’s worthy of special attention.

Sharon and Jim agree that creating a channel network that delivers on investment isn’t rocket science. You don’t need a PhD in marketing to figure this out. On the other hand, reimagining the chapter relationship won’t happen overnight. Like most worthwhile activities, patience and persistence are required.

Why should you make the effort? The first reason is reactive. The competition is nipping at your heels. Fortunately, they don’t have their teeth into a sock just yet. Associations remain, for the most part, trusted agents of their knowledge base. But you are no longer the sole owner of your professional real estate. Academic institutions, corporations, and other nonprofits have moved in. They are providing 24/7 education and content, often for free.

The second reason is proactive. Remember the hybrid environment. While some members may have discovered that they are happiest online. Others, especially at this moment, crave more meaningful interaction. A growing group of Gen Xers, in particular, are eager to participate in person. They are looking to grow their networks, find mentors, make an impact on society, and gain first-hand experience. A local presence that delivers on those needs is a magnet for people who can become your most enthusiastic boosters.

The third reason is it makes sense. Plants are easiest to cultivate in their native soil. Carefully managed chapters work for you. They will save money, time, and human resources. A local organization is also an effective strategy to navigate regulations and compliance issues in new environments. The bottom line is—chapters are an efficient solution for growing your brand in unfamiliar territory.

Manage Actively

If chapters can accomplish all that, why are some groups lackluster performers? Jim attributes the challenges to passive management. Findings in a 2019 Chapter Management Report from Billhighway & Mariner point to several areas where associations could improve their level of support to partners.

  • Make innovation a priority. There was little change in the way that associations and their chapters were operating in the three-year interval between surveys.
  • Require accountability. Only 4% of associations used some kind of method to calculate ROI from chapters.
  • Recognize contributions. Just 18% of respondents included the financial contributions of chapters in their budgets.

Write Rules of the Road

Rules of the road will create a chapter program that works for all partners.

While Jim doesn’t advocate micromanaging, he does recommend providing a clear framework for activity and rules of engagement that both parties agree to. These are guidelines that will help you create a chapter management process that works for you and your network:

Pick the right partner

Creating a strong chapter network requires a significant investment early in the game. Don’t spend your resources where the market won’t deliver a return. Ensure that there is a demand for the services to be provided.

Begin with a contract

A contract helps you avoid future conflict and protects both organizations from liabilities. Be a negotiator, not a dictator or a perfectionist. Stick to the most important points. Trying to cover every situation creates a negative launch for your relationship. You can always make amendments later.

Create a vision and articulate value

Share your vision for future success and identify the specific value that each partner brings to the relationship. Disfunction is the result of misunderstanding and anxiety about the future. Defining value creates a positive dynamic.

Set expectations and goals

Document expectations and goals. Then offer the training and resources needed to reach them.

Stimulate growth and reward progress

Give partners incentives to help you grow. Use tiers and segmentation to promote positive competition. Create a ladder for success and a system that rewards achievements.

Promote Accountability

Regular evaluations help you and your partners understand what is going well and where additional support may be needed. It’s an opportunity for feedback, brainstorming, and encouragement. Don’t skip this chance to provide motivation and improve results.

Triple the Win

A successful chapter program should be a win for both partners. If you’ve set the guidelines, created the synergy for growth, and provided adequate support, the time will come when your chapters begin to carry both their own weight plus some of yours. Their success should be rewarded with tangible and intangible benefits. But the real winners will be the members who can choose to engage with your brand exactly the way they want to—whether that’s face-to-face or at a distance.

Position Your Organization For Success

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